James, Part 10
Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres–not a forgetful hearer but an active doer–he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and does not bridle his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being stained by the world.
Many Christians wander through life feeling defeated and confused about their faith. They try their best to live according to godly principles, but setbacks are frequent and frustrating. Is there a way to turn things around? Is it possible to be content, even joyful, in the midst of life’s ups and downs?
James says there is a way that is both simple and foolproof. “If you want to be truly blessed,” he says, “don’t let God’s Word go in one ear and out the other–do what it says–put it to work in your life.” That’s a paraphrase of verse 25; James was more blunt. He said blessings come not to “forgetful hearers,” but to “active doers.”
Okay, but what does it mean to be an doer of the Word? Good question. And given the importance of being a doer, it’s a question we really need to answer. Let’s take a closer look at verses 22–27; they are an overview of everything James will cover in the letter.
Verse 22 begins with the verb, ginesthe. It is translated “be” in this verse; other verses translate it “become.” Ginesthe is an active verb that speaks to process. James says it’s not enough to read our Bible and listen to sermons. We are to become “doers” of the Word–participants in what God is doing in our life and in our world.
James is echoing Jesus’s words in Luke 11 when a bystander said his mother was blessed to have him as a son. “Even more blessed,” Jesus answered, “are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.”
And a few years after James wrote this letter, Paul reminded the church in Rome, “it’s not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers…” (Romans 2:13).
These are but three of many verses that underline the importance of becoming an active participant in the soul training God has prepared for us. I can be pretty dense when it comes to understanding God’s instructions, but when he says the same thing over and over again, I begin to get it. It’s not enough to hear godly teaching and read my Bible–I must engage. I must apply the message to my life.
James compares shallow listeners to a man who studies his face in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he has seen. James says this person is deceived–he is blind to his true condition. He is very much like the people Jesus wrote to in Laodicea: “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
The Word that brings new life (v. 18) and becomes implanted in believers (v. 21) must be lived out. Otherwise, we are only “hearing” the Word. The Greek word translated “hear,” akroatai, became auditus in Latin and “audit” in English. It basically means to hear, but we also use the word in a way that is similar to the way James used “hearers only” in verse 22. Have you ever “audited” a college class? When we audit a class, all we have to do is show up. No notes, no tests, no requirement to apply what we hear. We are free to take what we want and leave the rest. I sometimes wonder how many of us “audit” Christianity the same way. I’ve certainly been guilty. We might read our Bibles and hear godly teaching, but how often do we apply what we hear? Think about the last time you read something in God’s Word that convinced you about the need to make a change in your life. Did you make the change? Or were you just auditing?
In verse 25, James says the key is to not “forget” what we have heard. The “hearer only” is the person who superficially listens and forgets what he hears. The “doer” also hears, but doesn’t stop there. The doer “looks intently.” The verb translated “looks intently” is parakypto, and means “to stoop down” to investigate something. Parakypto is used in John 20 to describe how John crouched down to get a better look into the empty tomb.
What does James encourage us to investigate? The “law of liberty” (v. 25). In chapter 2, he calls it the “royal law.” It goes back to Jesus’s response to a question about the most important commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,'” Jesus said. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus reduced Christianity to two propositions: love God and love others. Christians are to be defined by their love. Part of the new birth Jesus speaks of in John 3 is the impartation of a new nature. We are given the capacity to love unconditionally, but the ability to love unconditionally must be developed in tandem with God. We learn how to love by “doing” the Word. In verses 26–27, James mentions three characteristics of “doers”:
- A doer of the Word has a controlled tongue. “If anyone considers himself religious and does not bridle his tongue, he deceives himself…” James will look at this in detail in chapters 3 and 4.
- A doer of the Word has a caring heart. “Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” In chapter 2, James explains that a “faith” that does not include compassion for the helpless is no kind of faith at all.
- A doer of the Word has a clean mind. “Religion that is pure and undefiled in the sight of God the Father is… to keep oneself from being stained by the world.” The lure of worldliness and how to avoid it is discussed in chapter 4.
In essence, James says the mark of genuine Christianity is a life of obedience. It’s not enough to talk the talk. We must also walk the talk. More on that next time.